Drugs and pharmaceuticals: management of intoxication and antidotes

  • Silas W. Smith
Part of the Experientia Supplementum book series (EXS, volume 100)


The treatment of patients poisoned with drugs and pharmaceuticals can be quite challenging. Diverse exposure circumstances, varied clinical presentations, unique patient-specific factors, and inconsistent diagnostic and therapeutic infrastructure support, coupled with relatively few definitive antidotes, may complicate evaluation and management. The historical approach to poisoned patients (patient arousal, toxin elimination, and toxin identification) has given way to rigorous attention to the fundamental aspects of basic life suppport — airway management, oxygenation and ventilation, circulatory competence, thermoregulation, and substrate availability. Selected patients may benefit from methods to alter toxin pharmacokinetics to minimize systemic, target organ, or tissue compartment exposure (either by decreasing absorption or increasing elimination). These may include syrup of ipecac, orogastric lavage, activated single- or multi-dose charcoal, whole bowel irrigation, endoscopy and surgery, urinary alkalinization, saline diuresis, or extracorporeal methods (hemodialysis, charcoal hemoperfusion, continuous venovenous hemofiltration, and exchange transfusion). Pharmaceutical adjuncts and antidotes may be useful in toxicant-induced hyperthermias. In the context of analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anticholinergic, anticonvulsant, antihyperglycemic, antimicrobial, antineoplastic, cardiovascular, opioid, or sedative-hypnotic agents overdose, N-acetylcysteine, physostigmine, l-carnitine, dextrose, octreotide, pyridoxine, dexrazoxane, leucovorin, glucarpidase, atropine, calcium, digoxin-specific antibody fragments, glucagon, high-dose insulin euglycemia therapy, lipid emulsion, magnesium, sodium bicarbonate, naloxone, and flumazenil are specifically reviewed. In summary, patients generally benefit from aggressive support of vital functions, careful history and physical examination, specific laboratory analyses, a thoughtful consideration of the risks and benefits of decontamination and enhanced elimination, and the use of specific antidotes where warranted. Data supporting antidotes effectiveness vary considerably. Clinicians are encouraged to utilize consultation with regional poison centers or those with toxicology training to assist with diagnosis, management, and administration of antidotes, particularly in unfamiliar cases.


Activate Charcoal Malignant Hyperthermia Lipid Emulsion Activate Charcoal Clin Toxicol 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag/Switzerland 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silas W. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.New York City Poison Control Center, New York University School of MedicineNYU Department of Emergency MedicineNew YorkUSA

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